Why teens need caring adults

Why teens need caring adults

When I was fifteen, I was thriving as much as a nerdy, idiotic, high school sophomore could. At least on the outside. I was a talented trumpet player in a competitive band; I had a decent social circle; and I was involved in extracurricular activities. But the inside was a different story.

I was full of anxiety, doubt, and a professional at self-deprecation. Every day, I was carrying an extra load of problems on top of the normal daily sophomore struggles. I had some life stress that was daunting, but the scary thing to me is that I had loving parents and mentor teachers and it still wasn’t enough.

Enter my One.

Around the middle of the year, I was clearly off. An adult I had known for a while noticed and reached out to me. Pretty soon that became a weekly check-in. It was simple. It wasn’t anything extravagant, planned out, or complicated but it was huge for me.

Even though I was lucky to have positive influences in my life already, having someone show up for me did wonders for my well-being.

I think about how much I would have benefited from Teen Life Support Groups when I was in school. Parents and teachers are great mentors and do have a huge influence on teens today. There’s no denying that, but a member of the community showing up for a teen in need can be just as, if not more, impactful.

Teens with mentors show improvement in their attitudes and attendance at school. Studies have shown that high school graduation rates are higher, teens are less likely to drop out, they have enhanced self-esteem, improved interpersonal skills, and more.

A previous Big Brother, Big Sister study showed that teens with mentors are less likely to begin using drugs or alcohol. Specifically, 6.2 percent of youth with mentors initiated drug use compared to 11.4 percent of their peers without mentors, and 19.4 percent initiated alcohol use compared to 26.7 percent without mentors. This shows that they can gain important life skills to stay away from drugs (LoSciuto, Rajala, Townsend, & Taylor, 1996).

So how can you Be the One?

Teen Life makes it easy to take training that equips you to lead Support Groups on a campus near you. If you want information on how to get involved with schools, email me at tobin@teenlife.ngo.

We don’t all have time to be on a school campus during the day though.

You can also help by going here: teenlife.ngo/partner. Any one-time or monthly donation helps us connect teens in schools with trusted adults and peer support.

It can also be as simple as checking in with the teens in your life. Teens need to know that we care. Because no teen deserves to feel alone.

Tobin Hodges

Tobin Hodges

Program Director

Tobin graduated with a Bachelors of Music from Texas Tech University. A teacher’s kid twice over, he taught for 13 years before coming to Teen Life. His entire career has been centered around helping students and teens from all walks of life become the best version of themselves.

6 Soft Skills for Every Teen

6 Soft Skills for Every Teen

As the school year revs its engine, it’s easy to get caught up in the hard skills that students need to succeed academically, like STEAM and language skills. But especially after two years of quarantines and unorthodox school routines, it’s also important to hone in on soft skills that will help teens succeed socially.

Hard skills are measurable skills related to a specific task. Your ability to use a certain kind of software or diagnose a disease are hard skills. They will get you a job. Soft skills are a group of abilities that allow a person to be more productive in every aspect of their lives: skills like empathy, self-control, and grit. Soft skills will get you promoted.

Just like academic skills, soft skills, especially social ones, build on themselves over time. Don’t try to cram them all into one conversation. But look for opportunities to model and teach good habits like these that will point your teenager toward long-term success in school, in business, and in life.

Here are 6 lessons that every student can benefit from.

  • A handshake and a smile go a long way.
    I didn’t learn this until I went to college, where I was fortunately surrounded by others who had learned and showed me the way. I’m sure you’ve experienced this too, but I’m often surprised at how quickly a situation can go from awkward to fun when I offer my hand and introduce myself.
  • Limit the time you spend on people who bring more drama than joy to your life.
    It’s not that things don’t happen or that you shouldn’t support your friends. But if you find yourself constantly trying to figure out why your friend is mad at you or how you can make reparations, reconsider the amount of time you have to dedicate to that friend.
  • “You don’t make friends. You find friends.” Dr. Lisa Damour
    This one is two-fold. If you are busy finding friends, you don’t have as much time to worry about whether or not you’ll be left out. Also, find the people who inspire you. Hopefully, they will help you become your best version of yourself too.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s a valid step on the path to success.
    As a recovering perfectionist, I fail at this regularly. However, I vividly remember a conversation with my dad during the college selection process, which rendered me a nervous wreck, where he told me it was ok to choose one and decide later it wasn’t for me. I can’t tell you how much better that made me feel. Sometimes we all need a reminder.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
    More people are willing to help you than you think; everyone needs help sometimes! When we learn to ask for help, we build relationships and emotional support, too. It even makes it easier for others to ask for help when they see it modeled for them. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Make eating healthy and sleep priorities. There’s no substitute for good health.
    There are countless studies on this one. Lack of sleep hinders your ability to make good choices, remember things, drive a car, and so much more. You cannot replace sleep with caffeine, good hydration, exercise, or pills. There is no substitute.

Of course, there are many other soft skills that we hope your teen is learning! Time management, healthy screen habits, and managing emotions are a few that come to mind.

Be sure to tell us in the comments which soft skills you have benefitted the most from! Which ones are you teaching your teenagers?

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. She’s been refining messages and telling stories for brands and non-profits since 2009.
5 Ways to Combat The Self-Esteem Issue

5 Ways to Combat The Self-Esteem Issue

If you’ve been listening to the Teen Life Podcast this summer, then you know that I had a heartbreaking encounter with a group of middle school girls earlier this year.

When I asked, “How good do you feel about yourself?”, I was met with overwhelmingly negative responses. I listened as each girl told me stories about how their self-esteem had been damaged by hurtful words, unmet expectations, or unfair comparisons.

I’ll be honest. It is rare to get a group of 13 teenagers to completely agree, but when it came to self-esteem and body image, they were all on the same page.

When I did some research, I found that body image issues can start as young as the age of three. This makes me incredibly sad as someone who loves teenagers and is also parenting toddlers.

But is there anything we can do to help? We know that self-esteem and body image is impacted by so many factors. To name a few, a teenager’s view of themself can be framed by family, culture, social media, television or movies, ads, and comparison to others.

While I don’t believe that there is an easy fix, we MUST take more of an active role in combatting this self-esteem issue. Here are some tips that I think would be a great place to start!

Change the way we talk about eating and exercise.
Let’s normalize talking about eating healthy and getting stronger instead of dieting and losing weight. Teenagers often come across ads and media that talk about the pill that will help you drop 30 pounds, or the workout program that will help you get your summer body, or the detox smoothie that will get rid of bloating. Our teenagers are constantly told that they have to eat or move a certain way to improve the way they look.

But what if we taught our kids to eat balanced and get moving to simply feel good? What if we encouraged them to listen to what their bodies need instead of pushing a “clean plate” or “restrictive eating” mentality?

This summer, I challenge you to invite your teenagers into food and exercise conversations. Educate them on healthy and appropriate choices. Cook together and eat a variety of foods – sweets, vegetables, fruit, pizza, and everything in between!

Take the focus off appearance.
It is easy (and honestly, sometimes lazy) to give compliments on outside appearances.

“I love your hair!” “That’s a cute dress!” “Have you been working out?” “You look great!”

A stranger could come up with one of those statements! That is why it is so important to praise characteristics that have nothing to do with appearance. We need teenagers to know that they are more than how they look on the outside.

I want you to look for one way to praise your teenagers every day for a week. No cheating – make sure you are praising an internal characteristic they possess! It could be their bravery, kindness, humor, resiliency, generosity, or joy. Make them feel seen and loved, no matter how they look!

Consider a social media feed detox.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project recently found that 1 in 2 girls say idealized beauty content on social media causes low self-esteem. That is 50%!!

We all know that our teens spend a significant amount of time on social media every day. I would encourage you to watch this short film from Dove on the Toxic Influence of social media. They also have another short video guide to Detox Your Feed.

Look at the social media feeds of your teens. Have conversations about what they are seeing and if they think it is making them feel better or worse about themselves. So much of what we see on social media is filtered, photoshopped, and fake. Make sure teens know that they are comparing themselves to unrealistic (and often toxic) goals.

After you have gone through their feed together, come up with a plan for who they should consider unfollowing, muting, or blocking. The accounts they engage with the most will shape what they see more of, especially for apps like TikTok!

Practice what you preach.
When I was sitting in that group of middle school girls, it was really easy to be shocked by how they were talking about themselves, but don’t I do the same thing? If we want teenagers to change the way they think and talk about themselves, we have to be willing to do that hard work as well.

Pay attention to the way you talk about yourself and your relationship with your body. Focus on desiring more energy instead of just trying to fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Or put on that swimsuit and get in the pool. Take pictures and post them without adding a whole bunch of filters!

If we want our teenagers to stop comparing themselves and become less self-conscious, we need to lead the way!

Employ positive self-talk.
Along those lines, we all need to use better self-talk and encourage our teens to do the same. Maybe this could look like talking to yourself out loud around your teen or walking them through your thinking process.

It could look like this: “I am thinking about changing because I don’t love the way my arms look in this shirt. But I actually think I look really good in this outfit! I especially love the color, so I am going to rock this today!”

This also might look like confronting teens when you hear them talk negatively about themselves. Don’t dismiss their negativity, but take the time to have a conversation about what they are thinking and feeling! Not only does this interrupt that thought process for them, but it also shows that you see them and care.

Do you think these tips would help you or your teen? Self-esteem is vital for our teens to thrive and appreciate themselves for who they are – no changes needed! Sign me up for a world full of confident and brave teenagers!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.
Navigating Your Teen Through the Summer

Navigating Your Teen Through the Summer

In some ways, it feels like I’ve just entered the parenting teens phase and in others, it feels like this is just the norm now and I’m in trouble. I say all of this to say that I, like you, am still learning and don’t have all the answers. But one thing I’m learning early on is that it is HARD parenting a teen when they are out of school. So whether you have summers off like your teen or you still work endless hours, here are some tips on how to actively keep your teen engaged over the summer.

Structured Time is Still Very Helpful and Might Be Necessary
Summer can bring a lot of free time which can be good for your teen but just remember that 80% of the year they are in a very structured environment. Going quickly to a loose environment can cause more stress than they probably even imagine.

Have an easy schedule that they could follow to give their day purpose. If I didn’t do this for my son, he would literally be on his video games for a solid 8 hours. Have some activities that give the day purpose like reading for pleasure, a summer project, learning a new skill, and some chores to help gain some ownership of their space.

Monitor Their Social Life and Calendar
Another thing summer brings is a lot of free time to hang out with friends. This is great! Let your teen take advantage of being with their friends when it’s not sandwiched between 5 minute walks to class and a quick lunch table chat.

If your teen struggles with putting themselves out there socially, encourage them to reach out or even set up a time they could have time with their friends at your house, a park, or any fun things around your town. It is important for your teen to stay socially active in a time when it would be easy for them to lose important friends and connections.

Encourage Them to Get a Job
This was never something I had to worry about in my teen years. I have had a job since I was 14 because it was something I needed to do for myself and my family. Jobs are a great way for teens to have a purpose during their less structured summer. Another benefit of them having a job is they now have their own income. You can decide what works for your family and how they can contribute to their own needs but this is a great way to start working on financial literacy and responsibility before they go off to college/trade school/adult life.

If they aren’t ready or can’t get a job another option is to find a place to serve in the community. Doing service projects can introduce teens to new areas of interest, foster a sense of belonging and connection, and support problem-solving skills.

Usually, the summer is the time you don’t have to set an alarm, have an agenda, or worry about how you react during the next day. So typically this could lead to late-night activities and sleeping away the next day. In reality, teens should be using the summer to create healthy sleeping habits for themselves. Make sure you set the boundaries with your teen on what a healthy sleep schedule looks like for them.

Most importantly, just remember that changes in schedules and routines are when teens can find themselves least connected to what they need. Keep that in mind as we navigate through the summer. When all else fails, just do what you know is best for your teen and in case no one has told you today:

You are doing a GREAT JOB and your teen is lucky to have you!

Tobin Hodges

Tobin Hodges

Program Director

Tobin graduated with a Bachelors of Music from Texas Tech University. A teacher’s kid twice over, he taught for 13 years before coming to Teen Life. His entire career has been centered around helping students and teens from all walks of life become the best version of themselves.

How to Talk About School Shootings

How to Talk About School Shootings

 Listen & Subscribe


We wish you never had to have this conversation, but it is an important one in light of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. In this brief episode, Karlie talks through some tips on how to talk about school shootings and also gives some ideas for how to be part of the solution moving forward. We hope this is a helpful resource as you continue to connect with the teenagers in your life.

In this episode, we mentioned or used the following resources:

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey


Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

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If you’re present, they will come.

If you’re present, they will come.

In March of 2020, I knew the names of a lot of my neighbors. We’d lived in our house for over 4 years, and we’d always walked a lot around our neighborhood. We have the kind of neighborhood where a lot of people sit on their front porch or stop us to ask if the boys would like to pet their dog. So, we probably knew the names of a few people on every street- in a casual, hello and goodbye sort of way.

I knew the names of my immediate neighbors but rarely saw them for more than a few minutes at a time.

And then suddenly, we were home. And all we had to do was walk. As a consequence, we were always outside, and very often, if we weren’t walking, we were camped out in our garage or on our driveway.

If anyone appeared in our alleyway for any reason, we were ready with enthusiastic hellos and nothing but time.

It didn’t happen overnight.

But in a long series of waves and hellos, we made friends. They brought their vacation pictures from 20 years ago to show us the time they were in Rome. We traded halves of cakes, loaves of bread, and cups of sugar.

We watched the people on our street change and new people arrived. There we were with baked goods and enthusiastic hellos, and more to the point, availability.

We don’t know everyone the same, but our relationships are deeper. More meaningful. More connected.

Somewhere in the middle, people went back to the office or back to restaurants and stores, but they also started coming over and cracking the front door to call in when they knew we were home. People who have little in common with us except for location became friends.

I tell you this story to say this:

You may feel like you have nothing in common with teens. Like they don’t want you around or don’t want to talk. But the number one quality that will draw them in and keep them coming back is availability.

Your un-pressured, unhurried, undivided presence.

It may seem impossible for any number of reasons. But if you build it, they will come.

Make tea, grab a book, and wait where they will be, ready with an enthusiastic hello and nothing but time.

Our CEO, Chris Robey, was talking about tech breaks recently. One day, he was walking into a support group he was leading when he realized he had left his phone in his car by accident. He usually set his phone to “do not disturb”. However, he found that he was more present and a better listener without it. He wasn’t wondering whether he needed to answer a text or how much time they had left. In short, he was more available, physically and mentally.

After that group, he started leaving his phone on purpose. If it’s as easy as removing the distraction, why not?

A huge part of availability is removing distractions and showing up!

Here are a few tips for setting the stage:

  • Set aside time every day that you aren’t looking at your phone.
  • Don’t take it personally if it seems like they don’t have time or don’t care. It definitely matters to them, but sometimes, at the moment, they don’t recognize it.
  • Be wherever your teen will find you. Pick a common area where you can read a book, fold laundry, do a crossword puzzle, or do anything else that doesn’t require a screen. If you aren’t present, it’s harder to be available. As a bonus, slowing down sets a great example and is good for your mental health.
  • Create opportunity. Invite your teen to do something they enjoy regularly. Ask them for help with something you don’t know how to do. Ask them to go for a walk around the block. If you continue to seek them out, they are more likely to do the same.
  • Be emotionally present. When appropriate, talk about your feelings and ask them about theirs. Get curious about what makes them tick.
  • Be shock-proof no matter what. You might not get a second chance if they don’t feel like they can trust you with hard things.

​If you haven’t been readily available before now, creating trust will take time. But trust me, if you stay consistent, they will come.

Consider the time you spend now on availability an investment in your relationship. Over the long term, the payoff is most likely better than you expect it will be!

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. She’s been refining messages and telling stories for brands and non-profits since 2009.